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Designing CRM Systems for User Acceptance

by Bill Harrison on June 15, 2009

5 minute read

In an earlier post, I wrote about the six reasons that CRM user acceptance is still a problem. Today I'm going to dig into the second of these reasons, user-oriented design, in more detail.

Defining the Problem

Despite the best intentions of companies everywhere, most CRM systems are simply not designed with users in mind and the reason is quite simple. Users do not buy CRM systems, managers and executives do. Managers and executives are typically the consumers of information from a CRM system, but the true users of the system are the sales reps and customer support personnel who daily enter and maintain information in the system. Without the hard work of system users, there is no valuable information for managers and executives to analyze.

Since the consumers of CRM information (executives and managers) typically select and approve the CRM purchase in the first place, much of the design effort in a CRM deployment is focused on the efficient display and presentation of information, not on the efficient capture of information. The result is that many CRM systems have wonderfully customized reports to display operational data, but the quality of the data being displayed is poor. The resulting reports are unhelpful and sometimes meaningless. This leads to frustration for everyone involved. In many CRM deployments:

  • Managers are unhappy because they can't get the information they need to run the business from the system.
  • Users are unhappy because the system is just more work for them, with no tangible benefit.
  • Executives are unhappy because the return on their CRM investment is not being realized.

What To Do

So, how can companies keep this from happening?

  • First, involve users in system requirement gathering, system design, and deployment. Take their needs seriously and work hard with your CRM vendor to build a system that makes life easier for users. If you can find a way to make the CRM system a serious productivity tool for users, then half your problems are over. It will also be much easier to train users and get them to enter and maintain accurate information in the system if doing so makes them more efficient and successful at their jobs.
  • Second, take time to understand the business processes being automated. All too often in a CRM implementation, system designers don't understand the processes that users currently follow before trying to automate them. And if a system is not currently in place, existing processes may be poorly understood or nonexistent. This means it is critical to document and understand existing business processes before the new CRM system is deployed.
  • Third, keep the system as simple as possible, especially in the first phases of deployment. New features and capabilities can always be added later when users are up to speed.
  • Fourth, focus on building features into the CRM system that solve real business automation problems for users. For example, build a system that makes it easier to create price quotes and proposals, or one that automates routine follow-up with customers needing support. With these features, users will correctly perceive that the CRM system will make their lives easier and users will be far more likely to embrace CRM.
  • Finally, consider integrating the CRM system with a lead generation source or building a bridge to an existing business application. Nothing makes sales reps happier than logging into a CRM system and having new prospects waiting for them to contact and nothing makes customer support personnel happier than reducing the number of systems they have to deal with in order to get their job done.

While these suggestions may seem straightforward and easy to accomplish, more often than not they are not followed. I think there are three reasons for this:

  1. Involving users takes time. Usually, CRM deployments are on a very tight schedule and no one wants to take more time to involve more people and accommodate more needs.
  2. Sometimes users don't have a complete grasp of overall organizational goals and priorities for the CRM system so their requirements must be filtered and adjusted. This requires extra effort that the deployment team may not be willing or able to expend within time and cost budgets.
  3. Sometimes managers and executives just don't care about user needs. It's sad, but often true.

The challenge for CRM implementation teams is to understand user requirements so that the system is designed with users in mind, but to do so quickly and efficiently so that budgets and deployment schedules can be maintained. This is a difficult task and it often requires tough trade-offs between the needs of different constituents. W-Systems often helps clients with this process because we bring:

  • Real-world experience from lots of other CRM deployments.
  • An impartial perspective.
  • No personal or political agendas.

If you find yourself in the midst of a difficult CRM deployment, give us a call. We can coach you through the tough decisions, or manage the entire design and deployment for you. Either way, you'll get the full benefit of our years of CRM deployment experience.